Senators voted 19-10 Thursday to send to the House a bill aimed at stopping Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson from giving preference to companies that pay a "living wage" when awarding city contracts.

SB139 was amended to clarify that the prohibition against such a preference applies only to "the direct purchase of goods and services" by a local government.

Opponents of the bill had said it would have kept local government leaders from looking at wages during their negotiations with companies seeking incentives to relocate.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said the amendment would allow local officials to look at wages a company pays for "economic development efforts where it's appropriate."

The change wasn't enough to satisfy Senate Minority Whip Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park, who said while he appreciated the sponsor's effort, he was still voting against the measure.

"This is still a majorly flawed bill," Allen said.

Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley, also spoke out against the bill. Mayne, the head of the Utah AFL-CIO, suggested lawmakers should be pushing to raise the minimum wage in the state from $5.15.

Even a Republican criticized the bill, directed at Salt Lake's controversial Democratic mayor's effort to promote a "living wage" much higher than the minimum wage — at least among companies that want to do business with the city.

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said the "minimum wage money out there is just sickening to me," even though he loves capitalism.

Stephenson, though, told his fellow senators that unskilled workers have trouble competing for jobs that pay above the minimum wage. "The compassionate thing," he said, "is to make sure government stays out of the way."

He has described the purpose of his bill as closing what he labeled the "Rocky loophole," created when the mayor signed an administrative rule last year giving preference to vendors who pay at least $9.06 an hour. That, Stephenson has said, circumvents the federal minimum wage law.

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